To quote my good friend Dr. Sukhi Muker “If you aren’t measuring what you are doing in training then you’re just exercising”. Not that there is anything wrong with exercising but if you are looking to improve performance and see if your training is making a considerable difference then you will value the information that can be gained by using one of these amazing devices. Let’s first look at and understand a little more about the heart rate and the heart rate zones and what is happening at each zone.
Resting Heart Rate (RHR) is best measured when you wake up. Without moving about too much see if you can get an accurate heart rate while lying in bed when you wake. Keep your heart rate monitor next to your bed when you go to sleep along with a bit of water to wet the leads when you wake. This is the most accurate measure of RHR. The next best thing would be to lie down for a 20-minute nap or meditation and measure it after the time has elapsed.
Remember that as you train your heart will get more efficient at pushing the blood so the RHR should decrease with training. This can also be a useful measure of over-training if you wake and your typical RHR is elevated. It’s great to check in and remeasure this value at least every few weeks.
Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) is best measured by using speed work or climbing hills and measuring this statistic. However, it’s not for the weak of heart, ill, untrained or overtrained (i.e. you’ve just run a marathon in the last month). Let me tell you that this method of measuring is a killer tough. I can personally attest that you can barely breathe and every cell is on fire and begging you to stop. So perhaps the formula is a safer but less accurate measure: MHR=220-age.
Let’s look at the Zones now.
Building an Aerobic Efficiency/Base or Recovery Training zone
Training in this zone improves the ability of your heart to pump blood and improve the muscles’ ability to utilize oxygen. The system becomes more efficient at feeding the working muscles, and learns to metabolize fat as a source of fuel.
60-70% i.e. if RHR=45 and MHR=181 then Zone=127 – 140 bpm
Training in this zone will improve overall cardiovascular fitness. It will increase cardio-respiratory capacity, which is the ability to transport oxygenated blood to the muscle cells and carbon dioxide away from the cells. Training in this zone can be useful for increasing overall muscle strength.
70-80% i.e. if RHR=45 and MHR=181 , then Zone=140 – 154 bpm
This is the zone where the system cannot remove lactic acid as quickly as it is produced is called the lactate threshold or anaerobic threshold. It generally occurs at about 80-88%. Training in this zone helps to increase the lactate threshold, which improves performance and recovery when pushing into this zone. Training in this zone is not for the weak of heart.
80-90% i.e. if RHR=45 and MHR=181, then Zone=154 – 167 bpm
VO2 max zone
You should only train in this zone if you re very fit, healthy (free of illness and disease), and only for very short periods of time. Lactic acid develops very fast as you are pushing the system while depriving our muscles of oxygen they need to operate. The value of training in this zone is you can increase your speed.
90-100% i.e. if RHR=45 and MHR=181, then Zone=167 – 181 bpm
So there you go. What are the next steps? Well buying a good heart rate monitor is the first order. I use the Polar RS200. I like it because it’s coded, which means that it won’t get interference from other monitors if you like to run with your friends. It also has a foot pod that you attach to you shoe that gives you other valuable information such as pace and distance. I highly recommend this if you are thinking of running. The next step would be to look at the mechanics of the form of exercise you are going to undertake. For instance if it’s running if you are thinking of starting you need to make sure you are doing it with the greatest efficiency right off the bat. This will ensure that you avoid any injuries that are inherent to the sport. I’ve successfully been running without injury for 2 years now. If you are thinking of weight training this can also be useful especially with super-set or circuit training. Perhaps hiring a good Personal Trainer can get you on track and ensure that you are starting safely if you are new to the sport. Choose your activity, set your goals, strap on your HR monitor, begin training, and most importantly monitor your progress. It’s up to you. Do you want to see your progress? Happy training!